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Acer's Aspire One netbook

Acer comes out swinging against against Asus' featherweight champ

Manufacturer Acer
Model Aspire One
Price (Street)
Availability Now

Asus created a new category of portable computers last year when it unveiled the Eee PC—the first of the much ballyhooed netbooks. What started as a bit of a cash-in on the hype surrounding the altruistic OLPC project has grown into a pretty attractive little business. Asus has since filled this category to the brim with a variety of Eee models designed to appeal to an ever-wider audience. As Asus seeks to consolidate its position as the netbook market leader, its rivals are crashing the party hoping to get a slice of the pie before Asus hoards it all.

Chief among those rivals is Acer, whose new value-priced Aspire One netbook is springing up at almost every retailer that has an interest in computers. At this rate you'll probably be able to buy one at your local gas station before long, and it might even be cheaper than a full tank of gas by then. Retailers like a product with buzz, and here the One has the successful Eee PC's coat tails to ride in on. Unlike some of the more recent entries in the netbook market, the One is quite affordable, allowing retailers to lure in shoppers during the busy back-to-school season.

Acer recently cut its netbook prices, and the One is now turning up at a lot of resellers for as little as $329. To the untrained eye that looks like a heck of a bargain for a system with an Atom processor, a 1024x600 display, and solid-state storage. Read on to find out if it is.

That outfit is just screaming for an accessory!
Perhaps because netbooks are generally seen as accessories to a primary computer, Acer has designed the One with an aesthetic flair that is second only to the HP Mini-Note 2133. A pearl white finish with black trim and metallic orange hinge accents delivers more visual impact than the Eee. The pearl white top is glossy, so expect to spend some time cleaning fingerprints, although oils deposited on the lid do not show as much as on the One's piano black LCD bezel.

A Blue model is already popping up in retail, with pink and brown flavors planned for later this year. PC makers seem to be learning that budget computers do not have to be ugly, and that's in line with what appear to be recent efforts from all of them to design systems that are easy on the eyes. When even Dell is making good-looking computers, there is no excuse for putting something blatantly ugly on the market.

The Aspire One posing with a 12.1" Asus Lamborghini VX3 and a 13.3" MacBook...

While its power adapter hangs out with a PS3 game for scale

The One is light and small, weighing in at less than one kilo (2.2lbs) and measuring 9.8 x 6.7 x 1.1" (248 x 170 x 28mm). That makes the One smaller than not only the Eee PC 1000 series, but also the MSI Wind U100. The included AC adapter is suitably diminutive, completing the portable package.

Despite its bargain price point, the One doesn't feel cheap. In fact, the system's compact nature and light weight make it entirely creak- and flex-free. Picking the One up by a corner and moving it around does not stress the chassis at all; you can easily hold it with one hand while typing with the other.

Working our way around the One starting on the left-hand side, we find the power connector, the VGA port, a 10/100 Ethernet jack, one USB port, and an SD memory slot deep enough to allow cards to sit flush with the system. Interestingly, the memory slot automatically integrates the capacity of whatever SD card you install into system storage. Throw in a 2GB SD card and you'll see the One's 8GB solid-state drive plus an additional 2GB as a single volume.

Only a Wi-Fi toggle switch populates the front edge of the One. The right-hand side, however, features headphone and microphone jacks, two more USB ports and a multi-format card reader that can handle MMC, SD, xD, and MemoryStick Pro flash flavors. SD cards protrude from the case when inserted in this slot, but memory cards aren't automatically integrated into system storage; they show up as separate volumes. You'll also find a Kensington lock slot towards the rear of the One.

Flipping the One reveals plenty of ventilation and a small panel that provides access to the system's internals. Unfortunately, the access panel only allows for the installation of a WWAN radio; you can't get to the One's vacant SO-DIMM slot, which sits just inches away. Those looking to upgrade the system's 512MB of memory will need to pull the whole thing apart to access the single user-serviceable slot.